BERKELEY, Calif. - ASU forward Tim Pierce will see plenty of familiar faces when he takes the court tonight for Arizona State’s game against California at Haas Pavilion.
Pierce, an Oakland, Calif., native, grew up with Cal players Marquise Kately, Leon Powe and Ayinde Ubaka, and he expects about 60 friends and family to attend the game, including about 40 for whom he managed to land tickets.
But there are two faces Pierce won’t see tonight: His mom’s and dad’s.
Pierce’s mother left him (and his dad) when he was 3 months old, so he admits he doesn’t even think about her.
His father is another story.
Henry Pierce was the kind of man who anchors a family and a neighborhood — a basketball coach to many of the local kids and a model of hard work for his son in his job as a security guard.
"Everybody knew him," said Mark Olivier, Tim’s AAU and high school coach. "He was a straight-shooter, and he had the most integrity of any man I’ve ever met."
Maybe that’s why most of the neighborhood turned out at Tim’s grandmother’s house the day their lives all changed.
It was fifth period, and Tim was in the library at Fremont High School on June 2, 2003, when he got a phone call telling him to get home because his father was dying.
Henry had suffered a massive heart attack, and Tim took off running from Fremont, a few miles away.
"When Timmy got home the fire department was there, and they wouldn’t let him in the room," said his aunt, Petrina Pierce-Wilson. "Timmy was crying and he said, ‘Daddy please don’t leave me. You’re all l’ve got.’ And then we went into the bedroom and prayed."
By the time paramedics took Henry to the hospital, he was gone — in the same manner and in the same house that his father had died in 1992.
With him went Tim’s will.
"I was ready to give up everything," Tim said. "On days when I didn’t want to play basketball, he pushed me so hard, so I was like, with him not here, why should I bother doing anything?"
Henry’s death came in the midst of Tim’s recruiting period. As a top-100 prospect on Hoopmasters.com, Pierce received overtures from several schools, the most serious being Oregon, UNCCharlotte and ASU.
But unlike the other schools, ASU backed off when Henry Pierce died.
"We told him we were going to give him some time, and he remembered that," said Sun Devils associate head coach Tony Benford, who along with coach Rob Evans, established a strong relationship with Henry and the family.
"He brought that up when he came here that everybody else didn’t really care about him," Benford added. "He said ‘All they cared about was his basketball.’ "
Tim also knew ASU was where Henry wanted him — a place and a coaching staff that could help him mature into a man.
"I’m loyal to my dad in every way, so I go where he chose for me to go," Pierce said.
Pierce’s freshman season hasn’t gone according to plan. He is averaging just 8.9 minutes and 2.8 points as he learns the intricacies of defense and shot selection.
"You think he likes to shoot now, you should have seen him in high school," said Evans of Pierce, who once dropped 51 points on Encinal High.
Pierce didn’t play at all Thursday at Stanford, and Evans wouldn’t commit to any lineup changes tonight. But the staff insists Pierce is still a big part of the Sun Devils’ future.
"He’s a phenomenal player with a great upside because he can put it up, and he’s got the ability to be a great defender," Benford said. "He’s 6-7. He’s long. He’s the prototype wing."
The spitting image of Henry Pierce.
"It seems like my brother passed away and stepped right into Tim’s body," Pierce-Wilson said. "He walks just like my brother, and he’s got the same moods and attitudes and that temper."
Those comparisons are just fine with Tim, who honors his father with a tattoo of Henry’s likeness on his right arm, followed by the message: "RIP Daddy."
"My dad was my No. 1 everything — my best friend," Pierce said. "We used to sit and joke and laugh about everything. It was hard when he was gone. It still is. But he always told me never be a follower. Always to try to go your hardest and do the best at what you can do."
ASU at California
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
TV: Fox Sports Net Arizona
Radio: ESPN (860 AM)
Records: ASU 12-2, 1-1 Pac-10, Cal 8-5, 1-2
Series history: ASU leads the alltime series 30-27 with the home team winning 21 of the past 26 games. ASU’s last win here came on Jan. 8, 2000, when Oakland, Calif., product Eddie House scored 61 points in double overtime.
Scouting report: Cal — The Golden Bears are without star forward Leon Powe (out for the season after knee surgery) and point guard Ayinde Ubaka (foot), leaving just eight scholarship players. Ubaka could be back as soon as next week.
ASU — With a win tonight, the Devils can open 2-1 in Pac-10 play with only six road games remaining. With non-conference opponents Vanderbilt (five straight wins), Northwestern (seven wins in its last eight games), and Temple (RPI of 24) heating up, the Devils could put themselves in a strong position for an NCAA tournament bid.